The pattern of development, which ushered in Kerala during the third quarter of the 20th century, attracted worldwide attention. It was eulogised as an ideal form of development as Kerala could achieve impressive level of improvement in various social indicators without a corresponding development of the economy. As some sort of uniqueness was apparent with no close parallel to it , the scholarly community christened it “The Kerala model of development”.
During those days, growth rate of Kerala economy was very slow with a per capita income much below the all India level. However, Kerala has been receiving remittances being the earnings of Keralites working in various foreign countries . Gradually the remittances assumed massive proportions. According to the latest reports, the remittances exceed `75,000 crore. If so, it would account for more than 25 per cent of the state domestic product. The massive inflow of remittances in turn has contributed to the economic growth of Kerala much ahead of the all India level. With the growth of the economy, an all round improvement in the living conditions of the people became apparent. Incidence of poverty has come down to a very low level. Conditions of prosperity are visible with posh-buildings and other paraphernalia dotted throughout the state. At the same time, Kerala has been transformed into a consumer state. The per capita consumer expenditure of Kerala is well over 30 per cent above the all India level. Furthermore, Kerala with only 2.76 per cent of Indian population, utilises nearly 15 per cent of the consumer durables in India. Similarly, nearly 12 per cent of gold ornaments are being transacted here. It is also reported that Keralites consume the largest quantity of liquor in India.
The growth of consumerism has paved the way for the emergence of various kinds of undesirable consequences. One of them relates to the attitude of Keralites towards work. A mentality for hard work, essential for economic development sadly, seems to have vanished from the bulk of Keralites. A fall in agricultural production, particularly of paddy, is a clear manifestation of such a mentality. The area under paddy was well over 8 million hectares during the 1970s, but has now come down to merely two million hectares. Along with this, there is a drastic fall in the number of agricultural workers too. Curiously enough, this happens while agricultural wage rate was rising steadily touching the current rate `700 or even more per day. Paradoxically, as many as 39 lakh youngsters remain as job seekers registering their names in employment exchanges. The youngsters all over the state, seem to be averse to the traditional occupations requiring manual labour. Instead, they are eager to seek their career either in foreign lands or to secure white collar jobs. If they do not succeed, they simply remain as an idle class.
Another anomalous development is the in-migration of nearly 25 lakh workers from other states who wilfully undertake manual occupations in construction, furniture makings, hotels, workshops, gardens and even in tilling the soil. While Keralites remain an idle class of onlookers without doing any kind of manual labour, the migrants carry out all kinds of tedious works. It is the labour power of the migrant workers which maintains the economy of Kerala in the present form with conspicuous consumption as the hall mark. In a sense, Keralites behave like the dominant classes of the past who led a luxurious life, by exploiting the weaker sections in the society. Furthermore, inequality is growing at an alarming rate. According to the findings of the National Sample Survey, the monthly per capita consumer expenditure of the top five per cent of population in rural Kerala was 14.7 times than that of the bottom five per cent. Moreover, with a gini index (the yardstick to measure the magnitude of inequality) of 0.421 in Kerala, against 0.328 in the whole of India, the magnitude of inequality is the highest in Kerala.
Though overall prosperity is discernible, the quality of life has also deteriorated beyond recognition. The state is facing new problems like shortage of clean drinking water and the menace of waste management with no clear solution in sight. Heaps of plastic bags containing household wastes are a regular sight from one end of the state to the other. Trivandrum, the capital city of Kerala, for instance, which was supposed to be the cleanest city in the whole of India, has become a dirt dump. In sum, the Kerala model of development, evolved during the third quarter of the 20th century which projected an optimistic picture, has degenerated into a lacklustre one eclipsing positive indicators. In other words, an unhealthy mutation of the model is in the offing.
How to retrieve the model poses a major issue calling for serious attention. If certain steps are taken, some of the damages could be minimised. One of them would be to revamp the whole education system so as to promote quality instead of encouraging its mushroom growth as currently done. It is time to give equal priority to other sectors like health, clean water supply etc., instead of pampering education, which has been, as an author maintains, responsible for the creation of an idle class in the state. Similarly steps to discourage conspicuous consumption, and other unhealthy practices etc., can also be thought of. Will the newly-elected government sense the writings on the wall and rise to the occasion by taking appropriate steps in the matter is the question.
K V Joseph was a member of Kerala, Public Expenditure Review Committee E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org